Buyer beware: 10 common travel scams
Keep your money in more than one place and take copies of your passport. (Richard I'Anson/LPI)
While you are often safer overseas than you are in your hometown, a few scams seem to pop up all over the world. Repeat the mantra: if it looks too good to be true, it must be too good to be true…
1. Fake police
Though sometimes this happens with the real police, these scam artists will demand to see your passport and find something wrong with your visa, but then suggest your troubles will all be over if you pay a fine. To them. In cash. Right now. Standing your ground and offering to accompany them to the station will usually see the error "excused".
2. Gem or carpet deals
On entry into a store, often prompted by an enthusiastic taxi or rickshaw driver, you will be offered a deal so preposterously lucrative that refusing it seems unthinkable. Think again - those gems are going to be worthless and the carpet you buy may not make it home at all. There are legitimate traders selling both jewels and rugs, and they do not act like this.
3. Airport taxis
Drivers taking you into town might try every trick in the book, from asking you for an inflated fare to driving around the streets to raise the price higher. This is usually harmless, but you should only travel with licensed taxis. If you cannot pay in advance, agree on a fee before starting out and do not pay until you get where you want to be.
You are approached by an extremely genial young man who offers you a scratch card, no strings attached. He is friendly, so you accept the scratch card and, lo and behold, you have won some sort of prize, which could be anything from a t-shirt and cash to a holiday. What is the catch? The local insists you must accompany him to a hotel (which might be an hour's drive away) to collect your prize. If you have not smelled a rat by now, you need your senses tested.
The penny drops, you start staring at the ground and shifting your feet uncomfortably, the seemingly-genuine local says that if you don't come with him, then he will not get paid for his job. However, if you do end up going with him, on arriving at the hotel you will be shuffled into a room with a bunch of other tourists and forced into watching an hour-long presentation about timeshare apartments, which you are pressured into buying at a very special discounted price by slick Westerners. At best you come out of it with your wallet intact, at worst you would have wasted an entire afternoon you could have spent lying on the beach.
5. "This is closed"
In some countries everyone from touts to taxi drivers will try to tell you that your chosen hotel, restaurant or shop is closed...but there is another, even better one you should visit - where they can pick up a commission. This is more annoying than harmful, but always insist on having a look for yourself.
6. Motorbike scam #1
Living out your dream of riding a scooter for a day around the countryside quickly turns into a nightmare when the bike you are riding breaks down or you have an accident. The owner of the motorbike is quick to escort you and your damaged bike (which does not look in that bad a state) to the repair joint of their choice, where the mechanic makes a grossly overinflated estimate of the damage costs. The owner of the motorbike insists you cover the costs, otherwise no customers will want to rent his bike. You shell out hundreds of dollars to cover the costs of the damage you possibly made, plus cosmetic improvements to the bike that you have now also covered for the owner.
More than likely, you have just lined their pockets with more cash than the locals would earn in a month. Take photographs of the bike before you start riding, preferably with the renter in them, so they cannot blame you for imaginary damage costs to the vehicle. And do not rent from companies that are attached to hotels or guest houses.